Step Three: We made a decision to turn our wills and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.
“I’m not sure I can do this!” I said to my Twelve Step Sponsor.
I had more than willingly expressed my eagerness to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understood him — in general terms. Coming to this specific issue that I needed to surrender to God was another thing.
Looking back on that early, innocent eagerness, I recall now my childhood experience of inviting Jesus into my heart. With what childlike trust I had in my parents and with my eagerness to please them and Jesus, I had no problem accepting him as my personal savior, an act that I was told would guarantee me protection from hell and a glorious entrance into heaven.
With all that I knew of myself and all that I knew of God at that nine-year-old point in my life, I gladly gave my life to Jesus.
Now, as an adult with a lifetime of struggle with my own stubborn will, I don’t question that childlike trust, but I do know that I didn’t have a clue on what it was to “follow Jesus” at that time except to do what I had seen my peers do before me and to do what my parents wanted me to do.
Now, sitting with my Twelve Step sponsor, I was pressed to the wall with the need to surrender what I wanted, what I thought I had to have and perhaps could not even live without, I wasn’t so sure about that surrender thing.
It turns out that surrendering to God would not be a one-time event for me, either at nine or at thirty-nine nor now. I would have many opportunities to do that, some of them more willingly than others.
Nor was surrendering my will to God turning out to make everything nice and easy for me, no matter how sincere I was. Sometimes I had to let go of the same thing over and over, I’d learned, and sometimes I had to let go of things that were mighty precious to my ego!
“I can’t do it,” I said again, trying to impress on my stubborn sponsor the impossibility of doing what was being asked of me, which was handing over to God the very thing I valued most in life.
“All you have to do is be willing to be willing,” she said, quietly.
Even now, years later, the memory of the tone of her voice makes me want to weep, for in her voice I heard nothing but tenderness, compassion and her desire for me to be free. Her words to me were pure love.
I’d chosen well when I chose my sponsor. She was as stubborn as I was. She was tough and then, in a moment, the greatest tenderness possible would come from the same voice that, seconds before, had held firm to the program and the next step indicated.
It was from my sponsor that I first heard the words “my self-will run riot”, and nobody had to explain to me what that meant. I felt some better when I read that the great Christian writer Oswald Chambers had struggled with his own stubborn will.
When my three daughters were young, I lamented to my mother about how strong-willed my little girls were. She chided me by saying, “Oh, Darling, you should be glad. They will need strong will to do whatever they are meant to do in life.”
I had a sense that my parents had supported my own strength, but it was my confrontation with my own stubborn will run riot that had me up against a wall I could not move.
Perhaps it was then that I began to learn the difference between a stubborn will and a strong one, and, even more, I was to begin to learn the difference between a self-will and a surrendered will.
Therein would lie freedom, if only I could learn the important grace of letting go and letting God take over.
This Third Step starts with making a decision. That decision lies at the crossroads between freedom and slavery. It is at the crossroads of admitting our lives are in chaos, shambles, disarray and even insanity because of our powerlessness over a lifestyle, an addiction to a substance, persons or an activity and admitting that there is a Power greater than ourselves that can restore us to sanity and the willingness to do what needs to be done to cooperate with that Power and participate with that Power to move into the state of freedom and grace for which we were made.
Track back to the origin of the word decide and you find that it means to cut, to make the cut, so no wonder some of us tremble a bit when we come up to those moments when we have to make the cut between what has been and what could be or must be. It is no wonder that making the decision creates fear and anxiety in us!
What if I cannot keep my commitment to my decision?
What if I make the wrong decision?
What if I make this decision and I learn something new that I don’t know now?
What if other people don’t approve of/like/support my decision?
What if I can’t live with my decision?
I suppose it’s when your back is up against the wall that to make a decision can be harder than it’s ever been or easier than it’s ever been.
About 8 weeks ago, I knew that I needed to make another important change in my life. For too long, I had lived as a compliant or a victim, depending on the situation, to what was going on in my outer world without putting some things that were extremely important to me first in my time management and daily life.
I could have gone on forever, letting other peoples’ schedules and agendas run my life, fitting in what was most important to me as I could.
While this particular decision was not especially of the importance as turning my will and my life over to God, it was something I needed to do if I was going to live out this particular part of my life in the way I knew was best for me. It wasn’t a moral or ethical decision I needed to make, but a time management decision, and it was that decision that would make the rest of my life work better. Simply put, my decision was to break an old habit and form a new one, a new one based on putting first things first.
I didn’t have a great deal of confidence in myself, but I did some research on what it takes to form new habits. I researched on the internet about forming new habits and breaking old ones, and I read The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg. I thought and thought about how I would set myself up for success because I really, really wanted to form a habit that was really important to me, and then I discovered this “movement” called “The Hundred Day Challenge”, and I knew I had found the key for myself.
I had no intentions of telling anyone what I had decided because I was so afraid I would fail and break my commitment to myself, but on the first day I went to my yoga lesson after I had made my decision, I blurted out my decision before I had even unrolled my mat.
It doesn’t matter to me that what I needed to do is easy for some people. It doesn’t matter to me that I should have made this decision long ago. What mattered to me was that a part of my life was out-of-control and I knew that bringing it back in line was going to make a huge difference in my daily life. What matters is that keeping my commitment to this 100 Day Challenge is an important piece in my recovery from codependence.
“I’m going to do yoga first thing every morning for 100 Days, ” I told my teacher, and then I added, “and I am going to do my Centering Prayer right afterwards.”
The words literally fell out of my mouth, and I was terrified that I had told her.
Before I could give in to the fear, however, my teacher responded with such a positive affirmation of my decision that for the first time in this process, I felt confidence that I could do what I had set out to do.
Tomorrow is Day Fifty, and I have been amazed, surprised, encouraged and deeply moved by the Power greater than myself that has come from within to help me, energize me and keep me inspired one day at a time.
What I have learned about myself in just these fifty days has amazed me, but more than anything, the help I’ve received just from making the decision brings me to my knees every morning with gratitude and a sense of awe.
It may seem like a little thing, but it isn’t.
This decision and this process follows a lifetime of struggling with my stubborn will to do things my way and on my own timetable.
For the record, I have a list of other parts of my life that I still need to decide to turn over to God, but what I’m learning is the power of taking first things first and keeping it simple.
* * * * *
My friend, mentor, teacher and longtime guide in matters of the soul and heart Father Keith Hosey listened to an update of my life and my struggles on his annual trip to lead a retreat at the Cenacle Retreat Center, here in Houston where I live.
“Learn to say Yes sooner, ” he said to me, and I looked at him with what was surely a puzzled face.
“When God is leading you, say Yes sooner,” he repeated, and then he chuckled.
“You take too long to decide whether it’s going to be God who leads or your own will. Say Yes sooner.”
I’m glad I decided to choose such wise teachers!
What about you?
What decisions are hardest for you to make?
Do you put off making decisions that you know would be good for you or might even save your life? What are the reasons you give yourself for doing that?
When is a time when you made a decision that you felt was empowered by God, working within you? What was that like?
When was a time when you made a decision that was against your best interest, against what you believed God was asking of you, out of defiance, out of fear, out of rebellion? How did that work for you?
In your life, how are deciding, trusting and obeying connected?
What do you fear most about making the wrong decisions?
Do you fear defying God’s guidance, especially when it is a guidance toward sobriety, serenity, courage and peace?
My favorite verse from Deuteronomy 30:19 in the Old Testament is this:
I have set before you today life and death,
blessing and curse.
Therefore, choose life.
Make a list of the things you choose/decide that bring blessing and life.
Make a list of the things you choose/decide that bring curse and death.
May we all choose well — and choose blessing and life.
Grace to you —